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Another side of the 'barrel baby' phenomenon

Published:Saturday | August 22, 2015 | 8:00 AMShanna Monteith
Kimberly Johnson

The Caribbean is home to many children who are referred to as 'barrel babies'. These are children whose parents have gone abroad to work in an attempt to seek a better life for themselves and their families. Barrel babies receive items of clothing and food from the migrated parent who also sends remittances to meet their children's everyday needs.

Kimberly Johnson of Retreat district, St Thomas, knows all about this kind of life. After losing her father at the age of seven and having her mother migrating two years later, Johnson was left in the care of her grandmother. Johnson told Family and Religion that people have always referred to her as a barrel child.

"It's definitely not as bad as people make it seem. I've never been in want. There was never a time when I was without school supplies, clothes or food. My mother ensured that I was always comfortable and was short of nothing. All my needs were met," said the now 23-year-old who admitted that she can still be considered a barrel baby.

According to an analysis done by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in 2000, the barrel children phenomenon is widely recognised as a major problem in Jamaica as its negative impact stems from the fact that many of these children are left without parental guidance or adult supervision but with plenty of access to remittances and barrels of items.

Johnson, however, excludes herself from these statistics.

According to her: "When my mother was leaving I was too young to understand what was happening. But she left me with my grandmother, a woman we've lived with all my life. Grandma and I have always had a good relationship, being raised by her only drew us closer."

Now entering her final year at the University of Technology, Johnson revealed that she understands her mother's decision to migrate.

"She did it out of love, so we all could live a comfortable life. We were never a struggling family but my mother had a plan and migrating was the only way it could be executed."

Despite her mother not being there for her physically, Johnson said that her absence did not harm her emotionally.

"Yes, I've missed my mother but we've always maintained our relationship. Being her only child at the time, she ensured that the bond was kept. We used to write each other often and I'd receive postcards on special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas, and I'd send her pictures in the mail. That was back then when technology wasn't so great. Now, we're able to video chat and communicate daily."

Not only does she testify to their continued communication, Johnson also revealed that her mother "was, is, and will forever be, her best friend."

"Mommy's absence didn't affect the mother-daughter relationship we have because she reaches out and still does her part. We can talk about anything. She's the first person I call if I'm having a bad day or if I have news to share. She always provides a listening ear and is always there, so even though I'm unable to touch or hug her as I'd like, we still have an excellent relationship. She's still my dearest friend," Johnson said.

When asked about some of the problems some barrel children encounter, such as depression, withdrawal, and other behavioural problems, Johnson was quick to dismiss the idea.

She said: "I'm one of the most confident, outgoing and grateful people I know. Mommy helped make me this way. My smile is true and my laughter comes from the depth of my being. I'm a happy barrel baby."

familyandreligion@gleanerjm.com